My family trip to Italy begins how it always begins, with a trip down South to a small town near Brindisi. I have so many uncles, aunts, and cousins down South that a week doesn’t quite cut it. You see, you cannot simply visit a few people or even just half, you have to see everyone even if it’s just for a short while. The family was always stressed as coming first for me when growing up and my relatives back in Italy share that sentiment. Saying they “go out of their way” for us while we are out there is a severe understatement. The custom is for us to spend a single meal (lunch or dinner) with each of the families. After a week of this, you have eaten so much food you are ready to swear off eating for the next month.
Southern Italian cooking is some of the best Italy has to offer: orecchiette, bresaola, arucola, involtini, and fresh tomatoes so ripe they look like the red noses of the clowns we all knew growing up. My family really takes pride in preparing these meals for others and it shows in their ear-to-ear grin when they ask you how the food is and you respond with an honest “buonissimo”. As I mentioned in my first post in this journal, part of my mission here is to hone my cooking and baking skills. Well, if I can even get somewhat closer to the dishes my family makes out in Italy I’ll be content. I know most of them have been cooking for a lot longer than I have, and cooking well is based on experience, but I think it also comes down to how much effort they put in. People who say that Italy has been slipping when it comes to home cooked meals and cuisine have not had the pleasure of eating with my family.
Each family starts each meal off with bread, prosciutto or salami, and an assortment of cheese. From there you are served a plate of pasta, usually with marinara or ragu but it could be many other types — made from whatever fresh ingredients they have on hand. After pasta comes the course of meat: sausages, pork or beef involtini, breaded veal… Don’t think we’re done just yet. Then comes the salad, which in the South is simply lettuce with olive oil and vinegar. Next the family puts out bowls of fruit, whatever is ripe at the time, while we were there it was watermelon, peach, nectarine, and cantaloupe. The final course is usually a scoop or two of gelato, stracciatella being my favorite.
Whew, now that’s a lot of good food.
The zucchini flowers below are somewhat a specialty of my aunt. She gathers these from her garden out in their yard and fries them in a mixture of milk, flour, and parmesan cheese. They are great on their own but really match well with a nice piece of hard bread.
Below you can see my family’s healthy basil plant (ok, one of many) and quite a large block of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. An important item in any Italian household is the basil plant that provides its leaves for so many Italian dishes. My uncle has two of these planters with basil, one with rosemary, and another with thyme, outside soaking up the Italian sun all summer long. The block of cheese was extremely sharp and provided a great contrast to the sweet cherry tomatoes for a balanced dish. You could just as easily use standard Parmesan found at the store if PR is not available.
Since this journal has some great Tartine sourdough resources, and this is the bread I’m so actively working with, it’s only fitting we use our leftover bread for this bruschetta recipe. The strong crust and thick crumb provide the perfect vessel for ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and basil. This simple creation brings me back to Southern Italy every time. Buonissimo!
Our bruschetta recipe is similar to many you’ll find online, but ours has a few twists.
Our Tartine Sourdough Bruschetta Recipe
- one half loaf tartine sourdough
- your best extra virgin olive oil
- a handful of cherry tomatoes (ripe like a clown’s nose)
- 2 garlic cloves
- a few fresh basil leaves
- a grana-type cheese, usually Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C)
- Slice the Tartine sourdough into small slices about 1/2″ thick and place onto a baking pan
- Top the bread slices with a *tiny* amount of sea salt to pull the water out of the bread while baking
- Bake for about 10 minutes until the slices are slightly browned on the sides and when finished, set out to cool
- Coarsely chop cherry tomatoes and basil and place into a medium mixing bowl
- Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes to cover
- Crack some fresh pepper and a few pinches of salt over the tomatoes and mix
- Peel a whole garlic clove and rub the clove on each slice. The action here is somewhat like when grating cheese
- Top each slice with a spoonful of the tomato/basil mixture and coarsely chopped grana